Council accused of dragging its heels on climate change

Essex County Council (ECC) has been accused of “meandering” on climate change after proposals to ring-fence more money to combat the problem were voted down.

Opposition parties put forward two amendments at the full council meeting on Tuesday, February 11, which also saw councillors agree the budget for the upcoming year – including a 3.99 per cent increase in council tax.

Council leader David Finch last month announced the budget plans as well as a £5 million fund due to be spent by 2023.

This will enable the council to take action on climate change along with an independent, cross-party commission to oversee this work, chaired by former Government Deputy Chief Whip Lord Randall.

ECC anticipates it will spend about £1.5m through its newly created Essex Climate Commission in 2020/21.

It has already launched the Essex Forest Initiative – a million-pound tree project that will see 375,000 planted across the county over the next five years.

But opposition councillors wanted to take it further with even more investment.

Labour councillors proposed amendments to increase the Environment and Climate Change Action capital programme by £500,000 in order to support an air pollution reduction initiative and introduce road signs designed to discourage use of cars and engine idling.

The Lib Dems’ amendment proposed additional £1m of funding to “promote a sustainable approach to growth, development and a low carbon future” and “implement measures to improve the green infrastructure of Essex and increase biodiversity”.

Both amendments were voted down by the Tory majority.

Lib Dem councillor Jude Deakin said: “There is very little evidence of anything that is actually changing.

“It feels to us the Liberal Democrats that this council is meandering – there doesn’t seem to be any urgency whatsoever.

“This is an emergency for all of us.

“The Essex Climate Change Commission is welcomed as long as it doesn’t become a talking shop.”

“I was dismayed to hear Cll Finch and Cllr Walsh earlier that this commission will have its first meeting in its coming months. When?

“So much for there being an emergency.”

Labour councillor Julie Young said: “Air pollution is  recognised as the single biggest cause of ill health

“So we are not tinkering around the edges in the way some of you mentioned.

“What we want to do is try to build a campaign around cutting engines to cut carbon emissions.

“And if we tackle areas around schools and high pollution areas it will be a start.

Cllr Finch said: “Front and centre is our programme of climate action.

“It is clear that the announcements we made at the last full council – the cross party commission and the Essex Forest initiative – captured the imagination of the county.

“Cllr Walsh and I have been inundated by excited residents and partners and industry bodies who are keen to work with us.”

He added: “No other council is showing this level of ambition.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter